Literature: Tunnel in the Sky

Our black protagonist.
Tunnel in the Sky is a 1955 juvenile Sci-Fi novel written by Robert A. Heinlein.

Rod Walker is a high school student taking an elective survival course, a requirement for anybody with ambitions in exploring other worlds. The final exam consists of being teleported to an alien world to survive there for up to a week and a half, a dangerous test but one expected to be overcome by the students. He prepares himself by following the advise of his famous survival teacher and his mercenary sister, and takes only knives and light gear for the test. Rod arrives on the planet and spends a few rough days wandering around, uncertain of what may be lurking around him, when he's jumped by another student and left unarmored and half naked.

Rod manages to survive as a savage until he gets the jump on another student, Jack. After the hostile meeting and an awkward meal, they agree to team up together. And shortly after, Jack explains that their recall never came. Realizing that something has gone wrong, they decide they need to find other stranded students and band together to survive, perhaps for the rest of their lives, on the unfamiliar world.

Provides Examples Of:

  • 24-Hour Armor: Jack wears a heavy and hot armored vest at all times after meeting Rod, one that disguises her gender. She wasn't sure that he would have teamed with her if he knew she was a girl, and as a whole, she was right.
  • Accidental Discovery: Dr. Ramsbotham, inventor of the gates, was actually trying to build a time machine rather than a teleportation device. On his first successful test, he saw a jungle through the portal and, assuming he'd succeeded in reaching prehistoric times, armed himself and jumped through. He was immediately arrested for waving a firearm in a botanical garden.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Helen's unit is called "Walker's Werewolves".
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Played with.
    • Averted in that, logically, not all planets are in fact Earth-like. Early on, Rod sees a dignitary from a race of chlorine breathers arrive on Earth.
    • Discussed between Matson and Rod. Any planet used for the survival test would be Earth-like, and if it wasn't Earth-like the students would be informed about hazardous environmental conditions first.
  • Amazon Brigade: Helen Walker is a captain in the Amazons.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Rod Walker, and by extension the Walker family.
  • Ammunition Backpack: Johann Braun carries a General Electric Thunderbolt as his weapon and wears its power pack as a backpack. His enormous gun doesn't save his life.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Years later, Rod becomes the leader of a new colony and leads them out to a new world.
  • Author Appeal: As typical of a Heinlein story, the importance he places on mathematics is briefly brought up. Rod doesn't understand the hard science and math that goes into teleportation because of his age and education; he's studied tensor calculus, statistical mechanics, simple transfinites, generalized geometries of six dimensions, the practical math involved in electronics, cybernetics, robotics, and analog computers. He has yet to learn any advanced math.
  • Badass Teacher: Deacon Matson. One-eyed, reduced fingers, decorated veteran of some of the first expeditions, including an award for being the sole survivor, who thinks that students being allowed any weapon is for sissies and would test them unarmed if he could. Going unarmed does make the test safer, per Paranoia Fuel below.
  • Blade on a Stick: Literally, Rod makes the colony's first spear by lashing Colonel Bowie to a wooden shaft. In light of the dopy joe invasion, all of the other colonists follow suit.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Most of the native animals and plants are given Terrestrial names for simple identification. For a time, recovering from a near-delirious daze, Rod convinces himself that they never left Earth and that the lion-like creatures were lions. The primary exceptions would be the "grand opera" and the "dopy joes".
  • Celibate Hero: Rod actively avoids any romance, though his own naturally obtuse attitude helps the process along quite nicely. For example, Jack shows early jealousy of Caroline, but since Rod is ignoring that sort of thing she ends up marrying Jimmy and the two are perfectly happy together. Rod also avoids becoming close to any one girl with a personal vow that the day he does is the day he steps down as leader. He's particularly careful to keep Caroline at a distance.
  • Common Tongue: Lingua Terra, described as being a simple language.
  • Cool Gate: Ramsbotham Gates.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • Rod averts the trope with his sister's advice: he takes only a knife, a vest pack, and rations. Even Matson questions why he didn't arrive with popular camping equipment and outdoor gadgets like other students.
    • Subverted by Matson during the final inspection. Students are expected to be prepared for any reasonable survival circumstances, in particular not bringing cold weather gear is an automatic failure despite Matson knowing they wouldn't need it. A few students go overboard and bring pressurized space suits and Matson fails them as well: the test is a test, not a Death Trap, and students wouldn't be thrown at vacuum or toxic environments without being informed.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Jimmy's son is named after Grant.
  • Disaster Democracy: The stranded students' mistake isn't establishing a democracy but making their government more complicated than primitive survival warrants.
  • Foreshadowing: Matson asks Rod who gave him the good survival advice and Rod explains it came from his sister in the Corp of Amazons. Matson grumbles that a woman like her would have kept him from being a cranky old bachelor. When Rod returns, Matson is now his brother-in-law.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Caroline goes barefoot to the test.
  • Earth All Along: Subverted. When the recall never comes, Rod conjectures that the students are actually on Earth, and part of the test is figuring out that fact and making their way to safety. This is not actually the case.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Rod and his family sit down under the Peace Lamp for a yeast cutlet. With real bacon.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Humanity's savior who conquered the stars was Dr. Jesse Evelyn Ramsbotham, saddled with both an Embarrassing First Name and an Embarrassing Middle Name.
  • Gender-Neutral Writing: Rod meets Jack, and doesn't realize her name is short for "Jacqueline" until Jimmy tells him she's a girl. Up until then there had been no explicit reference to Jack's gender.
  • Hammerspace: Caroline leaves for the test unarmed, barefoot, and carrying an overnight bag. A mere fifteen minutes later, Rod departs and finds her empty bag in the relay room. She arrives at the colony nearly a month after the test began and nobody is really sure how she managed to hold onto her odd assortment of items, including her diary and a sauce pan, for so long without her bag.
  • Herbivores Are Friendly: Averted. Rod sees animals akin to antelopes and keeps his distance from them knowing that a herd with horns and hooves is dangerous.
  • Honor Before Reason: Played with. Rod eventually learns that as the leader he needs to have a certain moral authority and thus must take impractical or even foolish actions to maintain the group.
  • Human Popsicle: A variant: Rod's terminally ill father will spend two weeks in a Ramsbotham field and return twenty years later in hopes that medical science can save him.
  • I Call Her "Vera": Rod follows in his sister's footsteps and names his Bowie knife. Helen's is Lady MacBeth but Rod shows a lack of creativity and names his Colonel Bowie.
  • In-Series Nickname: Caroline brands Grant "Hizzonor".
  • Just a Kid: When the rescue finally comes, the adults treat the surviving students like they're still children, ignoring that they survived an alien world and formed a civilized, self-governed, and thriving colony there.
  • Killer Rabbit: Dopy joes are rabbit-sized carnivores with an over-sized head that are slow and clumsy. Except during the dry season when swarms of them become the planet's apex predator. An army of dopy joes chases all other animals, including the massive "lions", to the shores of a dead sea were they must feast well, given the millions of bones.
  • Legally Dead: Quietly, when Roy and Rod are a month overdue from their scouting, Grant and Rod's close circle of friends hold a private memorial.
  • The Missionary: Bob and Carmen plan on getting married and then becoming missionaries.
  • More Deadly Than The Male: Matson's rant on humanity's unpredictable and aggressive nature mentions that "it goes double for the female".
  • Naming Your Colony World: Early on, Rod watches colonists depart for new New Canaan. The world they were stranded on was dubbed Tangaroa after a Polynesian goddess.
  • Never Tell Me the Odds: Jimmy wants to back out of the test and offers to share the statistics of the last year's test. Rod doesn't want to hear them and leaves.
  • Paranoia Fuel: invoked
    • The reason Helen recommends that Rod takes only a knife: a gun's power will give Rod a false sense of courage and safety which would possibly get him killed. A knife is only so much better then being unarmed and his vulnerability will make him paranoid enough to avoid conflicts and survive. Helen knows from experience, she took a gun on her first expedition and losing it saved her life: she ran from a native beast rather then fighting it and learned later that the creatures were virtually Immune to Bullets.
    • The final word of advice given to students is to beware of "stobor". They're very cautious around the unfamiliar native animals until they finally identify what stobor actually are: "dopy joes", normally dim-witted and lethargic creatures who have an annual The Swarm season. However, after the rescue, Rod finds out that there never were any "stobor" it was specifically vague warning to frighten the kids into being cautious. Nearly every life-bearing planet has some animal that turns out to be a monster of legend under the right circumstances and the best protection is being completely paranoid..
  • Race Lift: Rod is turned into a white kid on the covers.
  • Ribcage Ridge: The beach of bones on the shores of the dead sea. There are millions of bones lying there; some ancient and worn, others with gristle still clinging, but no actual carcasses.
  • Robinsonade: They were intentionally marooned as part of a high school wilderness survival course. However, due to a small technological "hiccup," they were actually marooned for much longer than expected.
  • Samus is a Girl: Jack is really Jacqueline.
  • Schizo Tech: Settlers travel through portals to other planets with animal drawn wagons. This is justified, as they are equipped to settle untamed worlds.
  • No Sense of Velocity: Rod and Jack notice a new star and conclude that they've just witnessed a nova. At the book's end, it's revealed a nova is what interfered with the recall. It's implied that they saw the nova that prevented them from returning home when realistically it would be many, many years before one world saw the effects of a nova, least of all both. One possible explanation is that the nova affected the space around the planet, it flat out stated that the wormholes are delicate at best, with many variables that all have to be just right. If looked at like this, the reason the cut off happened when they saw the nova is because it altered local space.
  • Spiritual Antithesis: Tunnel in the Sky was written in response to William Golding's Lord of the Flies. Heinlein disagreed with the viewpoint that savagery and barbarianism were humanity's natural impulse in the absence of civilization. Ironically, Golding had written Flies for a similar rebuttal: having disagreed with The Coral Island, were stranded young white men are living peacefully until native savages threatened them.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: When Rod gets back home, his parents and family friends all seem like petty jerks that don't understand anything. He can't relate to them anymore and no longer accepts their authority. He quickly finishes college and hands out to the Outlands again.
  • Super Breeding Program: Waxie wants to have the colony run on "scientific criteria" and start breeding a super-race.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Jack, her body armor disguises her feminine form and she learns that Rod has no interest in teaming up with girls, at least early on.
  • Switching P.O.V.: When Rod departs with Roy to scout for a new colony site, Caroline becomes the point of view via her diary.
  • Take a Third Option: More specifically, a fifth. A psychological experiment is performed on an ape, locking him in a room with four options for escape and watching to see which he employed, only for him to find a fifth way out. It serves as an allegory for the development of the Ramsbotham Gate which solves overpopulation and conquers the stars in ways nobody else could have foreseen.
  • Take That:
    • Against the Lord of the Flies. The selfish, aggressive, students are effectively the savage kids from Flies and they only manage to get themselves killed. Meanwhile the cooperative ones are willing to help each other out and manage to build a functioning society.
    • During the mayoral election a number of items are chosen to serve as anonymous ballots: pebbles, twigs, and leaves. Waxie, running on his "scientific breeding" platform needs an item to serve as his ballot. Jimmy offers a solution: the fragmented shards of a failed clay pot. Which he announces to the colony as "I'll get chunks of it and the crackpots are votes for Waxie".
  • Technology Marches On: Rod contemplates the flow of people through the Ramsbotham Gate to another planet and decides to calculate how long it would take the current population of the Earth to go through, accounting for deaths and births along the way. He uses a slide rule.
  • Teenage Wasteland: Type 1, the kids are stranded on an alien world because the recall to Earth never came.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Ramsbotham Gates saved the world from overpopulation. They allow colonization of space because the departing gate is the only equipment required for a one-way trip. Colonies must be self-sufficient until they're successful enough to warrant the cost of installing a gate.
  • Training Accident: The test was only supposed to be a week and a half. Early after the recall fails to appear, they consider if its meant to be late and the test is secretly longer. Eventually, it becomes obvious that the recall isn't coming and they're stranded.
  • Tribal Face Paint: A news crew arrives at the colony after contact with Earth is reestablished. Rod catches one of them spraying paint on his face as part of their "civilized kids brought to savagery" story.
  • Wagon Train to the Stars: Interstellar colonization is accomplished by means of literal wagon trains as technology can't be sustained by a survivalist colony while wooden vehicles and pack animals can.
  • What an Idiot: Jimmy asks if Rod was born stupid or studies it when he learns that Rod can't tell Jack is a girl. Rod accidently brought the subject up, by making a number of rapid-fire comments referring to Jack as "he" and "boy". invoked
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The same technology that allows for instantaneous interstellar travel enables people to create zones where time moves relatively faster or slower than the outside world.

Alternative Title(s):

Tunnel In The Sky